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Lies, Half-Truths and CVs in a Digital Age

Duncan Parry, COO of STEAK, began his career in search in 1999 at Lycos, during the early days of the industry.

In 2002 he joined PPC engine Espotting and rose to the position of Agency Editorial Manager, working on campaigns for some of Europe's leading brands. He left Espotting in 2004 to work as a consultant in both paid and natural search, during which time his clients included publisher VNU's portfolio of UK IT, finance and recruitment websites.

In 2005 he reunited with ex-Espotting colleagues to found STEAK. His roles at the agency have spanned PPC, SEO and Insight, as well commenting and writing in trade press for the agency, and contributing to STEAK’s social presence.

It seems to be this summer's trend to bring a CV scandal every week in digital land. First Yahoo's new CEO was found to have a non-existent qualification on his CV. Then there was a start-up founder, accused of financial wrong doing who moved to New Zealand and presented herself as a successful entrepreneur who was "outed". Now, we have the founder of a "future" bank who, it's alleged, has no banking experience despite claiming otherwise (his wife did work in a Barclays branch, though).

People lie. They exaggerate. We all do it - if you think you don't, you're lying to yourself. How far we go - from the harmless exaggeration mid-anecdote to a series of big, fat, duplicitous lies - is what separates the harmless-but-unadvisable from the unacceptable.

Being economical with the truth on your CV isn't uncommon. I can think of three people off the top of my head - one of whom I used to employ - who didn't include bad grades, or decided not to disclose the title of their degree on a CV. Bizarrely, one was ashamed of achieving a perfectly good IT degree because he was in Client Services.

The outing of high-profile individuals with inaccurate CVs or claims about their backgrounds that can be challenged isn't surprising in the digital industry. To claim you are someone that you’re blatantly not in front of the most information-retrieval savvy crowds in the world is like painting a bull’s eye on your chest. You're asking for journalists , disgruntled ex-employees and investors to Google you and, if they find some muck, rake it up and sling it at you - in public.

There's a flip side to this transparency (which I support, BTW). Are sites like LinkedIn and tools like Google adding to the pressure on us all to compete with the invisible "next guy" along? Increasing pressure to hype our achievements, inflate our successes and digitally gloss-over the mistakes and failures we all, inevitably, make as fallible human beings? My suspicion is that the answer is "Yes".

If employers and anybody else we wish to impress have access to a seemingly endless choice of individuals with no effort on their part, we all feel we need to stand out from the crowd more. Just think of some of the laughably exaggerated profiles on dating sites. Whether it's the "unique" design of a CV (they just irritate busy people looking through dozens of CVs, by the way) or inflated achievements or qualification, the tendency now seems to be to exaggerate.

Which is folly. In a world where, like it or not, you've traded away some of your privacy just by visiting a website - long before you publish anything or set up a social profile - it's not just the "big fish" who have inflated their worth who are going to be caught out. HR departments and managers aren't stupid. They can Google, use LinkedIn, look at Facebook and ask hard questions. Most employers still ask for references, too - even if the law restricts what can be sent in reply.

So resist the pressure. You might congratulate yourself on "bluffing" your way in to the new job, but you'll be found out - and life will be horrible in the meantime as you look over your shoulder and try to be somebody you're not. Don't try fleeing to New Zealand, either. They have the Internet there, too, and everything.

By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK


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